The health care system responded appropriately

Doug Graham, MLA for Porter Creek North

Letter to the editor, submitted to the Whitehorse Star and Yukon News on Friday, August 2, 2013
by Doug Graham, Minister of Health & Social Services

Re. Riverdale South MLA Jan Stick’s comment that Yukoners should have been but were not informed of the tragic deaths of two women until the release of a coroner’s report, 13 months after the fact.

I would like to say that all deaths are tragedies.

No matter the circumstances, there is always someone who will grieve – someone who will carry the tragedy of the death with them.

Many deaths occur in hospitals – in Yukon hospitals, or others.

The Yukon Hospital Corp. (YHC) does its due diligence, respecting individual privacy.

Hospital staff work within privacy legislation that sets limits on the public disclosure of sensitive personal information.

I am surprised an elected official would be so quick to comment and be so naïve as to the role of the coroner’s office.

The majority of provinces and territories, including Yukon, use the coroner system to investigate certain deaths.

The legislation of each jurisdiction governs the circumstances that require the reporting of a death to the coroner by any person, including a physician, when they have reason to believe the death occurred under a circumstance listed in the legislation, including when a death is unexplained or occurs in unusual circumstances.

It would be naïve of us to assume that we as the public should know all the details of these two hospital deaths.

First, the privacy of the family and deceased must be respected to the fullest extent possible in the circumstances.

Secondly, the coroner’s office must have time to conduct the investigation and make such recommendations as they deem appropriate.

MLA Stick alleges the system let these individuals down, and charges the department and the hospital for remaining silent on details and information.

As minister, I would not even have this information because of privacy considerations. And the hospital takes its responsibilities around privacy very seriously.

The role of the coroner’s office is to conduct the investigation and to make, if appropriate, recommendations to prevent similar deaths. The system, therefore, did respond appropriately.

The YHC did not wait for the final report but began working to improve the areas it identified. It did not wait to address concerns but began immediately to improve service and ensure patient safety.

The YHC is close to completing a patient safety review that did not wait for the coroner’s report.

It should be noted that these reviews are not released publicly, a standard practice across Canada, to ensure all staff and health care providers can have full, open disclosure and discussion during the review on potential issues and remedies.

As the department responsible for health care provision in Yukon, we want to make sure that all our citizens are receiving the safest care and of the highest possible quality.

We will continue to work with the hospital and providers across the system.

To suggest that our system is failing, or that by not publicizing personal information we have not done our duty to our citizens, is not only wrong, but clearly not in keeping with the legislation of our territory.